John Michael reflects on his life and how nine years spent on the streets have shaped him and enlightened his views about how we regard one another and the labels we assign.
I was sitting on my porch the other morning enjoying a store-bought cigarette and contemplating not much of anything. It isn’t much of a porch either, just a folding chair on the sidewalk in front of my door. But I do like the idea of porches, they symbolize a lot of good things for me—relaxation, leisure, contemplation (of course), family, and a sort of friendly openness to the neighborhood. Stop on by for some coffee or a beer sometime.
I modified the word cigarette with “store-bought” because they are still a luxury item to me. It has been three years since I was living on the streets calling myself a hobo and being happy to smoke any three-quarter, one-half, or one-quarter cigarette I found on the ground or in an ash bin. Down to one-eighth at times if you want the whole truth.
During my contemplation I had the thought, No longer a hobo. I felt a pretty good jolt of fear burning icy in my chest at the idea of not being a street guy; I was good at it and happy with it. I tell people I have a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Master of Social Work degree, and a Doctor of Hobo degree. I actually don’t mention my first two degrees very much; it can create envy and they don’t mean a thing to me at all anymore. To certain people, including myself before I found the hobo religion, that is how they measure themselves against each other. What do you do for a living? Where did you go to school? What did you study? Just what are your credentials, son?
Hobo Metaphysics are short, hopefully wise phrases I started writing around my sixth year on the streets. “If you are comparing yourself to others to see how you are doing, you are not doing well,” is an early metaphysic of mine. The idea being that the best credential you have is just being a human being. There is enough dignity in that to impress any room, I should think. Said another way, “It’s not who you are or what you are, but only that you are.”
If there is a beast or devil in the world, it is shame. Shame arises early for most people. You are just being your natural self as a kid and then someone demeans you, screams at you, molests you, or beats you, and after a while you get the idea that there is something deeply wrong with who you are.
If you are reading this, I want you to know that you are loved and that you are beautiful just as you are. I say this despite what others have told you and what you are currently telling yourself.
Shamed people start constructing some masks so they won’t get beat or screamed at. Nothing wrong with that, other than pretty soon you are looking and acting just like everyone around you. You are afraid to make even the tiniest of errors and end up punishing yourself in all sorts of crazy ways if you do make a mistake. If you are reading this, I want you to know that you are loved and that you are beautiful just as you are. I say this despite what others have told you and what you are currently telling yourself.
I was on the streets a total of nine years; seven years in the incarnation plus two more as adjusting back to society was becoming burdensome. I ended up out there in the first place with a bad case of PTSD from a childhood sex wound I remembered in my late 30s. I simply was not able to cope with a full-time job and did not want to return to my family or go on any kind of medication. It turned out to be a great way to heal my shame. Without family, friends, or bosses reinforcing who they thought I was, I was able to resurrect my authentic self. Well, actually I am still working on that, but I am more peaceful and content all the time.
Buddhists say that no-self is the true self. Christ said something similar when he said that those who lose themselves to him will find themselves. Not being or labeling myself as a hobo is a way of losing myself some more, but letting go of labels and identities scares the mind a little, thus the fear on the porch. There is no separation between you and God, you only think that there is. That is another Hobo Metaphysic.
What labels have you been given, good or bad? What labels are you giving yourself? I say, risk letting them go and any shame attached to them. You may find yourself walking naked with your creator enjoying the garden as intended; just like Adam and Eve, before we found ourselves ashamed and hiding our true identities.